The Architecture of Robert Adam (1728-1792)

The Castle Style

The Auchincruive Tea House


Introduction to the Castle Style

Robert Adam's Castle Style Designs

 The Sublime, Picturesque and Beautiful in C18th Thought




view from South

The main approach to the Teahouse is from the South. It sits on top of a low hill which has excellent views all round. The building consists of two castellated drums, a smaller on a larger. The upper part of the larger drum provides a terrace and there are four miniature castellated turrets around its perimeter. Access to the upper terrace is through the central arched opening that can be seen here between the two small turrets.

North Elevation

The lower drum is visually anchored by the four castellated turrets. The turrets are at a miniature scale compared to the main tower. Between each of these is an arched opening. Originally each opening would have had a glazed door, but these are now bricked up.

The Auchincruive Teahouse in Ayrshire is in the grounds of Oswald House, now the campus for the Scottish Agricultural College. Robert Adam designed the Teahouse in 1778 for Richard Oswald and it is also known locally as Oswald's Temple. It was designed both as a landscape ornament and a gazebo for the grounds of Richard Oswald's original house. It is positioned on a low hill, but has a view over all the surrounding countryside and is itself visible for many miles around.

The lower drum of the Teahouse acts as a plinth for the upper, which consists of a taller castellated cylinder with an arcade of twelve round headed recessed arches. Eight of these arches are blind and four have sash windows in their lower half. These glazed parts correspond with the openings on the lower level. At the lower level there are four arched entrances, set between four miniature castellated turrets. One of these entrances, on the main approach to the building, provides access to a staircase, open to the sky, leading up to the upper level terrace. The other three, which would once have been glazed but are now bricked up, apparently give access to a circular corridor running around the perimeter of the inner drum. In the centre, accessed from this corridor is a servants room, with glazed door and window openings corresponding to those of the outer drum.1 All of these spaces are currently inaccessible, with all entrances to the building having been blocked up.

This is a superb example of the Robert Adam's use of the castle style for an ornamental building in the landscape. Essentially this building is classical in concept, but in Adam's Castle Style. The Tomb of Theodiric at Ravenna has been cited as the model from which Adam drew inspiration for an approach to the design. The use of a classical Roman precedent provided a layer of meaning, a resonance of the antique, but was just the start for him of the immensely creative process of designing a building.

In the gallery at Mellerstain House is a pen and wash drawing by Robert Adam for a garden ornament designed as a ruined castle. The purpose of that design was to terminate a principal view from the house with a ruin and to give the appearance of the estate being of greater antiquity than it was. The motivation for constructing the Auchincruive Tea House was somewhat different. As well as providing an incident in the landscape, the building's did have a practical purpose which was to act as a gazebo, a pleasant room in which to view the surrounding countryside while taking tea.

The Teahouse seems to dance in the landscape, like a child's toy. Part of its charm is the toy-like scale of some of its parts. For example there is a deliberate change of scale between the four miniature turrets that "pin" the perimeter of the lower drum and the "normal" scale of the central drum and its battlements and details. The design also exploits the visual tension between the circular elements of the upper and lower drums. The upper drum looks as though it might start revolving at any moment. This feeling is heightened by the repeating arches of the arcade, but the lower drum is "pegged" and contained by the four miniature turrets, placed equidistant around the perimeter.

These photographs belie the fact that this building is in a poor state of repair. Stones over some of the window heads have dropped or snapped. It has apparently suffered from subsidence from a coal mine below the site, but some areas around the base of the walls stand in water after the rain, which cannot help the structure. As of August 2002 the stair to the upper level was choked with masonry parts from above, as was the area immediately around the base of the building. The battlements look as if they have been kicked off, particularly on the North and East sides, and the lower windows have been bricked up, presumably to prevent further damage internally. One good sign is that the roof looks to have been recently replaced, so some care is being taken. It is probable that lack of funds prevents full restoration. Apparently this building was used at one time for weddings, but this cannot have happened for some time.

This building is a national treasure. It should be treated as such.


1. The Complete Works of Robert and James Adam. David King. Architectural Press. The description of the internal arrangement of the lower drum, which is now bricked up, is taken from here.

2. Richard Oswald of Auchincruive's Coat of Arms is registered in The Public Register of all Arms and Bearing in Scotland. (This register was begun in 1672 by Act of Parliment).

Richard Oswald's entry (Vol 1, P 389) is dated 15 Nov 1770. The Coat of Arms is described as a blue Savage wreathed about the head and middle with bayleaves with quiver of arrow and bow in his hand his other hand pointing to a comet. The design is apparently quite unusual, Worshipful Society of Apothcaries in London has a similar motif..

Thanks to Leslie Hodgeson of Edinburgh for the information relating to Richard Oswald's Coat of Arms

Turret detail

Most of the building is of "drove" stone, with the masons chisel marks visible. This was cheaper than a smooth polished or ashlar finish. Unlike some of the other Castle Style designs that these studies look at, this building is not constructed of coursed rubble. The Stone is regularly cut throughout and laid accurately in courses. The string courses and copings are more highly finished or "dressed". The masonry is of a high quality.


Turret detail

Detail of a miniature turret. This turret is in the best condition of the four. On one of the others the castellation is entirely broken off. Damage like this, unless quikly repaired, allows water into the stone joints, which expanding and contracting with the freeze-thaw winter cycle, leads to a breakdown of the joints and dislodging of stones. Apart from the physical damage shown here, some of the stones on exposed parts of the building are badly weathered and need to be replaced.

Upper drum

Upper works and roof from the East.

Details of the recessed arcade bays around the upper drum of the Teahouse. Generally a great deal of care was taken in detailing this building.

Each of the arcades has a carved relief positioned at the centre of the arch of the arcade. The relief is carved into a block of stone dressed flush, rather than standing proud.

Stone details

Detail of the machicolation, battlements, string courses and voussoirs over the arches of the blind arcades. When looking at details like this in a building it is easy to forget how difficult this would have been to construct. For example each stone making up the arches of the machicolation below the battlements would have had to be individually cut to fit exactly in its place within the circumference of the circle, with its outer face cut to the curve of the circle.

Stone detail

Carved incised detail in arcade. This is the best example of these relief carvings. There is one in each bay of the arcade, but many of the others are so heavily weathered little is left. All appear to be identical and are presumably to a lost drawing by Adam, rather than devised by the masons. The design is of a primative face set within a wreath of leaves. It has been taken as the god Apollo, associated with the sun, but this is unlike any other representation of Apollo. And is more likely to be related to Richard Oswalds Coat of Arms. 2

carving detail

finial detail

The coping stones that follow the battlement profile are very carefully cut, the outer edge being curved to the wall circumference. The battlement sits on a moulding which creates a deep shadow. A single stone forms each pair of arches of the machicolation The outer edge of this stone is also shaped to the curve of the wall. The brackets, with heavily moulded outer faces, are also individual stones. On this exposed part of the facade the stone has been heavily weathered by wind and rain. The stone of the battlements must be a different harder stone, which has better resisted the weather. The finial and its flashing, being in such good condition, have clearly been replaced recently.


Introduction to the Castle Style

Robert Adam's Castle Style Designs

 The Sublime, Picturesque and Beautiful in C18th Thought





Multimedia Catalogue


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